Sunday, December 2, 2007

Creating Characters, continued...


As the Sunday Craft Lady, I've been posting about characterization in novel writing. Onward!

FIRST PERSON BIO: You've heard about this, I'm sure, if you are an aspiring author of romantic fiction, as a way to delve deeper into a character's psyche. To someone who isn’t a writer, the concept might seem a little spooky. It's basically just sitting down at the computer and letting a character channel his thoughts through you. Letting the words a stream of consciousness---based on what you already know about him. His goals. His inner wounds. His thoughts about the situation he's in. His feelings about things like:

His childhood

The past



Pain and loss

What makes him the most angry, the most sad

His biggest fear.

This is NOT one of those form where you fill in your character's shoe size, best friend in college, favorite color, and kind of ice cream he prefers. It's a stream-of-consciousness flood of emotion and angst that comes from who this character is.

During a workshop years ago, on of my favorite authors, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, said she was having a difficult time with the hero in a story. She just couldn't get the hero's character nailed until she finally sat down and let the words flow in a first-person bio. SEP writes fabulous books, real page turners, but they don't involves suspense, weapons, or intense drama. Yet first words out of his mouth? "I want a GUN!" He was an action hero trapped in a very different kind of book!

How can this be? The author is doing the writing, so she can decide to do anything she wants, right? Mostly. Well-planned characters have personalities, unique situations and back stories and environments that make them real. When this magic happens, they almost take a life of their own--with actions, reactions, and feelings that fit all that you have created about them. If you try to "force" them into behaviors that don't match the people they are at a given point of time in your story, it will come across as a jarring inconsistency to a reader. In contests, you might see a judge's comment like "unbelievable character." "This character wouldn't do that!" Or that a character "just doesn't work." To someone who isn't a writer, this might seem like gross presumption. How could a stranger presume to know a character better than the author herself? But consider your own reading--and frustration--when a character does or says something totally far-fetched!

So, how do we create believable characters? By making them pychological plausible and consistent, giving them crucial goals--something they need, not just something they want. Giving them major external and internal conflicts. Matching them up with characters who will provide varying levels of believable conflict.

Are you working on a story? How is it coming? How far along are you? And have you hit any major stumbling blocks with characters? I would love to hear from you!

Until next time...


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